Taking SDN to the Extreme with Slalom

OpenFlow standards are crucial to the move towards Software Defined Networking (SDN). So far, OpenFlow has simply been enabled on existing switches. Networking vendor Extreme Networks is now taking a different approach, productizing switches purpose-built for OpenFlow.

The new OpenFlow switches will debut under the name “Slalom” and will complement Extreme’s existing switch portfolio, which already supports OpenFlow.

The Slalom switching gear will make use of the Switch Light OpenFlow virtual switch being developed by Big Switch.

Extreme Networks will be taking the ODM reference design for Switch Light and “painting it purple,” a reference to the corporate color branding for Extreme, according to Dave Ginsburg, CMO at Extreme Networks. Ginsburg explained that Extreme will layer on product service and support around the reference architecture, creating a complete solution.

The Slalom switch is a realization that SDN deployments will take many different forms.

“We see parts of the network that might be SDN-only and other parts that operate in a hybrid mode, where the switches do traditional Layer 2-4 forwarding as well as talk to an OpenFlow controller,” Ginsburg said.

Ginsburg noted that Extreme’s existing Summit and Black Diamond switches can operate in a hybrid mode with its Extreme Operating System (XOS). XOS is rooted in the open-source Linux operating system.

“With our traditional switches, we spec out everything from interface to processor types and then overlay it with XOS,” Ginsburg said. “Slalom, on the other hand, is based on a reference architecture that is defined between Big Switch, Broadcom, and the ODMs.”

The current reference architectures for Switch Light are 1 RU boxes, similar to Extreme’s current Summit switching portfolio. From an aggregation perspective, bigger switches like Extreme’s Black Diamond can then also be used in a full-scale network topology.

While Extreme is continuing to embrace SDN in its switching portfolio, the networking company is not currently going after the controller piece of the puzzle.

In a typical OpenFlow SDN environment, some form of SDN controller is required to enable applications to benefit from the network. Other networking vendors, including HP, Juniper and Cisco, are all gearing up their own SDN controller efforts.

“We’re partnering both with Big Switch and NEC as controller vendors at this point in time,” Ginsburg said. “We have the view that we can add the most value at the network operating system layer and leave the controller expertise to third parties.”

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at InternetNews.com, the news service of the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals. Follow him on Twitter @TechJournalist.

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